View 774 Friday, May 17, 2013
E-book sales are up 43%, but that’s still a ‘slowdown’
After three years of triple-digit increases, the number of e-books sold last year grew by only 43%.
And that’s enough of a difference in the annual growth rate to have publishers talking about an e-book "slowdown," even as digital books remain the fastest-growing part of the market. They now account for about 20% of all book sales reported by publishers.
Only 43% growth, and that’s a slowdown. You may interpret that any way you wish. I think it’s print publisher spin. In another conference science fact writer Jeff Hecht says
As with so much other reporting about the ebook market, you have to
wonder how they’re defining "books" and "the market", especially when
they are trying to do statistics without good numbers on paperbacks. Are
they counting textbooks, professional books, children’s books, and so
on? Are they counting the sales of ebooks in the 10,000- to 30,000 word
format, which essentially are not published in paper format?
Sales growth has to slow down as ebooks gain share of market — it’s a
lot easier to double market share when you start at 1% than when you
start at 20%. I’m starting to hear of people who have gone back to paper
after buying or being given an ereader.
My own experience is that backlist sales in eBook format are growing a lot less slowly than 40%, but they are growing; backlists have become an important part of an author’s income, and almost all backlist sales are in eBook format now. Obviously used print book sales bring to income to an author.
A discussion in another conference brought this to my attention. Charles Murray, one sociologist I have great respect for, has published in National Review On Line an important essay on the decline of rational discussion, along with an appeal to all readers to make an effort to do more of it. He reminds us of the important American intellectual tradition of defending the right to say the unpopular, as portrayed in great films such as Inherit the Wind, and how the American Civil Liberties Union defended the right of the Nazi Party to march through a Jewish section of Chicago, and he says:
Few remnants of those American themes survive. We too seldom engage our adversaries’ arguments in good faith. Often, we don’t even bother to find out what they are, attacking instead what we want them to be. When we don’t like what someone else thinks, we troll the Internet relentlessly until we find something with which to destroy that person professionally or personally — one is as good as the other. Hollywood still does films about lonely voices standing up against evil corporations or racist sheriffs, but never about lonely voices standing up against intellectual orthodoxy.
I’m sick of it. I also have no idea how to fix it. But we can light candles. Here is what I undertake to do, and I invite you to join me: Look for opportunities to praise people with whom you disagree but who have made an argument that deserves to be taken seriously. Look for opportunities to criticize allies who have used crimethink tactics against your adversaries. Identify yourself not just with those who agree with you, but with all those who stand for something and play fair.
In Defense of Jason Richwine
His resignation is emblematic of a corruption that has spread throughout American intellectual discourse.
By Charles Murray
He does this in defense of Jason Richwine in a matter of considerable concern that we will address another time; it’s part of the long time controversy about IQ, race, Nature and Nurture, and other such complicated matters, and that’s all important and must be discussed; but Murray’s appeal hit me just as I had finished reading a defense of the Cincinnati IRS agents involved in the tax exemption application scandal. We’ll get to that in the next section.
Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had story “Scandal born of vague IRS laws” by Matea Gold that present the IRS side of the tax scandal. There had been an enormous increase in applications for tax exempt status of semi-political organizations, and there had never been any rules established for how to deal with them.
At the heart of the issue is the murky role occupied by nonprofit "social welfare" organizations, set up under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which are allowed under IRS regulations to engage in a certain amount of campaign activity, as long as politics is not their "primary" purpose. The groups pay no tax on the money they bring in. They can accept unlimited donations and, unlike political committees, can keep their contributors secret.
That status became especially valuable three years ago with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which lifted the ban on direct campaign spending by corporations, including many nonprofit groups. The ruling triggered the boost of applicants to the IRS.
The stepped-up role of tax-exempt groups in politics has stymied the Federal Election Commission, which has deadlocked on questions about how much disclosure is required of advocacy organizations that engage in elections.
That has left much of their regulation in the hands of the IRS, which has never clearly defined how much political activity is allowed for social welfare organizations.
Faced with hundreds of applications, the civil service bureaucrats sought to find a formula to winnow out the easy cases with were unambiguously within the intent of the law, and the political organizations seeking tax exempt status for what were, in effect, political advocates. They came up with a formula, “tea party” which identified the political advocates, and those got set aside, and
The problem with this is that while every word is true, the words “social responsibility” or “progressive” would generally get the same results, and those weren’t used. It wasn’t that there were rules applied that made no sense: they made all too much sense in a time sensitive situation. I’m perfectly willing to listen to the IRS arguments but I don’t have to believe them. Oh, I can believe there are those who never thought about “social responsibility” advocates as political advocates. But that is yet another argument.
What needs debating is just how much tax exemption there ought to be for political advocates?
View 774 Thursday, May 16, 2013
Interesting. President Obama today told the press that he had never heard of the Treasury Inspector General report on IRS involvement in selective examinations of tax exempt status applications, given green light treatment to those professing “progressive” or “Social responsibility” goals, but putting primary hampers on those who mentioned “swollen government”, “too big government”, “tea party” and other conservative notions. http://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2013reports/201310053fr.pdf
The report wasn’t issued until May 14, but early copies were circulated well before that, and surely something of that importance – its public appearance caused the forced resignation of the Acting Director of the IRS – would have been known to any competent political advisors, and surely one of them would have leaked the information to the candidate. I understand the impetus to keep certain campaign knowledge from the candidate, and every political manager must deal with it: What the bosses don’t know can’t hurt them, they can deny it with good conscience. I don’t suppose there has ever been a political campaign without some such incidents. But once the campaign is over, and particularly when word of the shenanigan gets out to investigative reporters, there’s always a frantic scramble to cover things up, and at some point the top campaign managers must be told, and one of them has to tell the politician. The boss is, after all, the boss.
Now there was an Iron Law of Bureaucracy incentive in spades with big casino here: enemies of Big Government are by definition personal enemies of IRS bureaucrats. Pournelle’s Iron Law states that in every bureaucracy there will be two major factions, one dedicated to the goals for which the organization was formed (class room teachers who want the kids to learn as an easy example) and the other faction dedicated to the organization itself (teacher’s union executives); and the second faction always gains control of the organization. This is true of every bureaucracy, including the IRS, the FBI, the AFL-CIO, the General Services Administration, NASA, your local police force, your local fire department, the local PTA, and almost anything else you can think of, and if you think of a bureaucracy that doesn’t fit, wait a bit. So to any IRS bureaucrat organizations that say that the government is too big will be the enemy, and while Type One bureaucrats would resist the temptation to get out the red tape, Type Two bureaucrats would order a barrel full with some gusto.
Thus it’s hardly astonishing that people who want to control the growth of government would receive extra scrutiny from the IRS career civil servants. It’s even less astonishing that the political campaign workers (alas, with the gutting of the Hatch Act there is now considerable overlap) would simply smile and say nothing when they observed this sort of thing. But I would find it astonishing if no word of this reached the higher ranks of the President’s political campaign management within a year or more. Someone in the White House staff knew. The question is, how high up did the knowledge go? There is no evidence that Nixon knew everything or even very much about the machinations of Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Colson in their “plumber squad” operations; the point is that he should have. He should have had in his top entourage at least one who would tell him what was being done in his name. Every CEO needs information sources other than the chain of command. Of course this President has little experience at management at any level.
I am not involved in breaking news stories, but as the facts become clear it’s important to understand them; there is more than politics involved here.
The original Hatch Act (upheld more than once by the Supreme Court) forbade civil service employees from engaging in political activities, and was usually interpreted as forbidding government workers who were “Hatched” from even being asked for political donations by anyone else. Of course the original theory of a civil services was to divorce it from politics while retaining responsibility to the public. That is a very narrow path to follow: if the public doesn’t like what a bureaucracy is doing, how can that be changed? The answer is supposed to be to change the political control, but if the bureaucrats are protected from political management stalemate takes place. This is easily observed in a great many places at all levels of government. An example is our usual example of a needless government activity, Department of Agriculture Inspectors who attend stage magic presentations to be sure that if the magician uses a rabbit in the performance, he has a Federal license to do so. There is probably no political appointee in the Department of Agriculture or anywhere else in the Federal Government who would defend this as a necessary activity during times of deficit financing; but the practice has continued for years, and likely will continue forever because there is no simple mechanism for ending it.
The Hatch Act worked fairly well for decades. The theory was that the civil service protections were strong, and accepting them required the civil servant to essentially give up political activity: you’re paid to implement policies, not to advocate for them. For younger readers this may seem like an astonishing statement, but that used to be the case, and every campaign manager knew it and acted accordingly.
Perhaps restoring the Hatch Act to its original intent and even strengthening it is order.
It’s time for lunch. Here’s something else to think about.
SUBJ: More on the the FBI’s Martha Stewart tactic
Another example of the Iron Law at work. Most FBI special agents are precisely what they appear to be and what most of us grew up to expect of G-men; but the Iron Law continues to move in favor of gathering more power.
Cannibalism in Syria
Just in case anyone in your audience had any illusions about the war there.
Of course, before one judges the man too harshly one must consider this fact about his victim:
"In an interview conducted via Skype in the early hours of May 14, al-Hamad explained to TIME what caused him to cut out the soldier’s organs: “We opened his cell phone, and I found a clip of a woman and her two daughters fully naked and he was humiliating them, and sticking a stick here and there.”
The upshot is that it appears that humans on both sides have been made into monsters by the war. And that raises a problem: When this orgy of killing, murder, and cannibalism finally subsides, the people who fought in this won’t instantly turn into civilized saints and go back to pumping gas or selling cars. No, I suspect that when the war in Syria is over the barbarized winners will make trouble elsewhere in the middle east as well. At this point I suspect it doesn’t matter who wins — whatever comes out is going to be horrible.
It was, of course, inevitable. George Washington warned us against getting involved in the territorial disputes of Europe, and from entering into entangling alliances. Our strategy of Containment required that we have alliances and that we become involved in territorial disputes; if you are going to contain communism, you have to contain it, and sometimes that involves sending Americans to Korea and Viet Nam. The problem with containment is that it is a form of attrition, and strategies of attrition work much better against democracies than against one-party systems. The rulers of a one-party system don’t feel the effects so very much, while the costs are shared in a democracy. After 1980 the US added a strategy of technology to accompany Containment, and it all worked extraordinarily well: in 1986 there was still evidence that we were headed for a CoDominium with the USSR surviving well into the 21st Century, but that didn’t happen. Once the Soviets understood that we would not disarm ourselves with “Arms Control” but were dedicated to neutralizing their most expensive weapons, things rapidly came apart over there. Arthur Koestler had long before said that a sufficient condition for the collapse of a totalitarian state would be the free exchange of ideas within it. That might have been an overstatement but it contained much truth, and the small computer revolution faced the Soviet leadership with an impossible dilemma: forfeit the technology race, which was clearly military suicide (clear after the Falkland Islands War) or open up the society to free discussion. Gorbachev tried Glasnost while maintaining communism, the Old Guard tried to eject him by force, and the short insurrection that followed ended the USSR as such. The Seventy Years War aka the Cold War was ended.
Alas, the US had become addicted to projecting power overseas. The USSR, having won (by default when the US withdrew after Watergate) Viet Nam tried for Afghanistan; the result of that action was instructive to those who study war. It was not instructive to the leaders of the United States, who decided to exert the power of this Republic to restore the “legitimate” government of Kuwait after this artificial Kingdom was seized by Saddam Hussein. Then after 9/11 we intervened again into Middle Eastern affairs. Quick Victory in Afghanistan was followed by an inane decade of “nation building”. The Baathists were turned out in Iraq but we could find no one to take over, and the artificial of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish Nationalists broke into pieces, with barbarism taking over in much of the area.
There have been other events in the Middle East, and US attempts to exert power in order to preserve civilization in them. They have not been notably successful. We projected power into the Balkans with the less than favorable results. A side result was to earn the thorough dislike of the Russians whose long history of dedication to Slavic interests seems to have escaped the geniuses of the State Department. We intervened in Egypt and in Libya. In all cases we didn’t do much: the lesson of Iraq was that we couldn’t afford to exert the power of the republic. The cost was too high. We do not have a generation of soldiers to send overseas. But of course that was predictable.
Stephen Vincent Benet was a pacifist. His pacifism was shaken by Hitler and World War II, and he wrote in intellectual defense of opposing Germany. He did not live to see the peace after the war.
His view was that war never led to good results. This is not true, and he realized it before he died, but his vision of the consequences of war was never one of rosy optimism. There may be reasons to seek out and destroy dragons, but such actions have consequences. Sometimes it no longer matters much who wins. Here is Benet on war, published in 1935.
Nightmare With Angels
An angel came to me and stood by my bedside,
Remarking in a professional-historical-economic and irritated voice,
"If the Romans had only invented a decent explosion-engine!
Not even the best, not even a Ford V-8
But, say, a Model-T or even an early Napier,
They’d have built good enough roads for it (they knew how to build roads)
From Cape Wrath to Cape St. Vincent, Susa, Babylon and Moscow.
And the motorized legions never would have fallen,
And Peace, in the shape of a giant eagle, would brood over the entire Western World!"
He changed his expression, looking now like a combination of
Gilbert Murray, Hilaire Belloc,
and a dozen other scientists, writers, and prophets,
And continued, in angelic tones,
"If the Greeks had known how to cooperate, if there’d never been a Reformation,
If Sparta had not been Sparta, and the Church had been the Church of the saints,
The Argive peace like a free-blooming olive-tree, the peace of Christ (who loved peace)
like a great, beautiful vine enwrapping the spinning earth!
Take it nearer home," he said.
Take these Mayans and their star-clocks, their carvings and their great cities.
Who sacked them out of their cities, drowned the cities with a green jungle?
A plague? A change of climate? A queer migration?
Certainly they were skillful, certainly they created.
And in Tenochtitlan, the dark obsidian knife and the smoking heart on
the stone but a fair city,
And the Incas had it worked out beautifully til Pizarro smashed them.
The collectivist state was there, and the ladies very agreeable.
They lacked steel, alphabet, and gunpowder
and they had to get married when the government said so.
They also lacked unemployment and overproduction.
For that matter," he said, "take the Cro-Magnons,
The fellows with the big skills, the handsome folk, the excellent
scribers of mammoths,
Physical gods and yet with sensitive brain (they drew the fine, running reindeer).
What stopped them? What kept us all from being Apollos and Aphrodites
Only with a new taste to the nectar,
The laughing gods, not the cruel, the gods of song, not of war?
Supposing Aurelius, Confucious, Napoleon, Plato, Gautama, Alexander –
Just to name half a dozen –
Had ever realized and stabilized the full dream?
How long, O Lord God in the highest? How long, what now, perturbed spirit?"
He turned blue at the wingtips and disappeared as another angel approached me.
This one was quietly but appropriately dressed in cellophane, synthetic rubber and stainless steel,
But his mask was the blind mask of Ares, snouted for gasmasks.
He was neither soldier, sailor, farmer, dictator, nor munitions-manufacturer.
Nor did he have much conversation, except to say,
"You will not be saved by General Motors or the prefabricated house.
You will not be saved by dialectic materialism or the Lambeth Conference.
You will not be saved by Vitamin D or the expanding universe.
In Fact, you will not be saved."
In his hand was a woven, wire basket, full of seeds, small metallic and shining like the seeds of portulaca;
Where he sowed them, the green vine withered, and the smoke and armies sprang up.
Stephen Vincent Benet
As I expect all of you know, I am no pacifist; but I am a student of history. And when we send our armies out to remake the world, I cannot help but be reminded of Ortega y Gasset, and his tale of the story of Napoleon reviewing his troops. “See my soldiers, how splendid, how the light glistens on their bayonets.” To which Talleyrand replied, “Sire you can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it.” Once the bayonets have destroyed the firm seat, restoring a new one may be more difficult than supposed. There was a good reason for John Quincy Adams to say that America is the friend of liberty everywhere but the guardian only of our own. He understood that he who defends everything defends nothing, and those who undertake to defend the rights of all the people in the world may end by finding the coast was their own liberty. We can break things and kill people. Rebuilding is a more difficult job, and we learned the wrong lesson from our accomplishments with Germany and Japan after World War Two. We cannot rescue everyone and when we find what the cost has been, who rescues us? It is no small thing to be a free society and defend that freedom. The thing about defending our own liberty is that it generally increases our power. When we go out to slay foreign dragons, the cost can be far greater than we think – and we may not be the ones who pay it.
Mike Flynn calls my attention to this:
New system could predict solar flares, give advance warning
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Researchers may have discovered a new method to predict solar flares more than a day before they occur, providing advance warning to help protect satellites, power grids and astronauts from potentially dangerous radiation.
The system works by measuring differences in gamma radiation emitted when atoms in radioactive elements "decay," or lose energy. This rate of decay is widely believed to be constant, but recent findings challenge that long-accepted rule.
The new detection technique is based on a hypothesis that radioactive decay rates are influenced by solar activity, possibly streams of subatomic particles called solar neutrinos. This influence can wax and wane due to seasonal changes in the Earth’s distance from the sun and also during solar flares, according to the hypothesis, which is supported with data published in a dozen research papers since it was proposed in 2006, said Ephraim Fischbach, a Purdue University professor of physics.
Of course the notion of variable decay rates in radioactive substances is startling to those of us brought up on the notion that it is invariable. So we have neutrinos, which no one can find, changing the decay rates that can’t be changed; but if all that works we may be able to have some advance warning of events that may destroy our civilization. A brave new world.
And to end the day on a cheerful note, our galaxy won’t collide with Andromeda for about a billion years. But here’s the picture of the day.
Galaxy Collisions: Simulation vs Observations,
APOD: 2013 May 14 – Galaxy Collisions: Simulation vs Observations:
It is very cool.
View 774 Wednesday, May 15, 2013
This is Wednesday, and all the Windows computers here need updating. For reasons I do not understand, the Windows 8 machine wants to be told to do the updates including the resetting although it says that it does it automatically. That is, there is a screen that says updates are automatically installed, but if I manually tell it to update I am told there wre 13 critical updates do I want to do them now?, and if I do I get to download them, and after downloading install them, and then I get to tell the machine to restart or it will do it in a week or so without my having to tell it so. Now it may be that I have insufficiently pored over the Help files and other instructions for Windows 8 and my cursory look is insufficiently informed. I no longer spend about half my time mucking about with small computers, so that I do all these silly things so you don’t have to. Still, I have had some experience with these little machines over the years, and you’d think that I could get the automatic updates setting right on Windows 8 – but I don’t.
Now true, the machine is in sleep mode on Tuesday nights, and it’s not my primary machine. My primary machines are two older Windows 7 machines, and on Wednesday Morning when I sit down at my desk they will both be asking me to log in, having done their updates during the night. They’ll want me to log in. When I do that all is well and over, for them, and for me I know to go to Alien Artifact, a Windows 7 system that will have been in deep sleep for days, and get his started on his updates; and then go tend Swan, our very powerful Windows 8 system, and tenderly bring her into update condition, and that’s going to take some personal attention until it’s done. I suppose I should make an effort to find out what’s going on, and perhaps I will; but meanwhile, take this as a reminder to wake up all your sleeping machines and update them.
When Windows does an update, this is a signal to all the hackers to update their software, since there will be new fixes to older hacks, and sometimes fixes to hacks not yet loose in the wild, and that means there are millions of machines vulnerable to those hacks. Hacking is a big business now, and some of the best computer scientists in the world are employed by those interested in penetrating your computer and using it for various nefarious purposes. If you are lucky you might be taken over by a concern that merely uses your system to forward a ton of spam, and if you’re really lucky the proprietor will not only install his control software, but another virus that protects you from other hackers. There are concerns out there that do that. There are even rumored to be some who recognize that a machine has already been hacked, and stop trying to get this one – a sort of professional courtesy. And then there are those who update the scripts they sell to script kiddies who use them to try to start their own companies of zombies they can rent out.
In other words, it’s dangerous out there, and keeping your systems up to date is the first – but not the only – line of defense.
So having gone the rounds of the Chaos Manor computers to get them properly updated, I sat down to the mail, to find this the first mail in my inbasket.
Tried to have sex with a hornet’s nest
No matter what I’m exposed to, no matter how many times I think I’ve seen or heard it all, somebody tops it. The big, neon, flashing lighted sign in my head reads "What did you think was going to happen?"
I hope this is some sort of weird joke.
Have a nice day.
The IRS scandal develops. The White House insists that no instructions came from there. Here is the official report of the Inspector General.
I have made only a cursory inspection, and found no surprises.
We are awaiting the President’s speech on the IRS mess. The official story is that two lower level IRS employees in Ohio took it upon themselves to delay the applications for tax exempt status of all groups using the word “Patriot” or the phrase “Tea Party” or other libertarian/conservative code words in their title or statement of purpose, while expediting those who claimed to be “progressive” or “responsible.” There was no knowledge of this at higher levels,k and certainly none at the political level. It was all a matter of low level professionals.
Of course that opens the question of the civil service. If a nation cannot control its bureaucracies, perhaps a spoils system with naked political appointments would be preferable, because that way at least you get political responsibility: everyone knows who appointed his ward leader as Commissioner of Public Roads, and if you want a road past you house you elect someone who lives near you. That way eventually you get your road, whereas with a bureaucracy you never get a road. A politically responsible system would be able to remove the bunny inspectors after a few years of ridicule but in fact it has been several years and they are still inspecting stage magician performances to insure that if the magician uses a pet rabbit in the performance he has a Federal License to do so, and no, I am not making that up. Indeed, if the magician geeks the rabbit – slays it with his teeth and eats it raw – he may be in violation of state or local laws, but the Federal Inspector of the Department of Agriculture has no jurisdiction, whereas if he uses the rabbit in the performance and keeps it as a pet, he must have a Federal License to do so.
The President is speaking now, and he will fix it, and see to is that nothing like this will ever happen again, and it was never anyone in his staff who ordered it, and it’s all going to be all right, and trust him. It was outrageous and inexcusable and it will never happen again, and the acting head of the IRS has resigned, and it is all going to be all right. The perpetrators have been “disciplined” but so far have not been identified nor discipline defined.
So it goes. More breaking news. There is a link between the two people in Cincinnati and the acting director of the IRS (who has resigned). Too much for me to follow. The President took no questions and left after promising to make everything all better. And of course he may well be completely sincere. But someone in his campaign staff knew exactly what was going on. The story is not yet over.
The Tea Party frightened the campaign to reelect the president, and someone took steps to place a primary hamper on the Tea Party after 2010. Who knew what, and when did they know it? Those who lived through the Watergate investigations will remember all this…
IRS Scandal expands to EPA
John David Galt
And now there are stories of leaks from tax returns to political groups. The old Nixon Committee to Reelect the President (CREEP) never went this far. One wonders what the media will make of all this. The last time, a President resigned. That isn’t likely here.
And I don’t know about any of this:
[Link formerly here deleted as it does not lead where I thought it did.]
We have a case in Los Angeles of a guy who was curious about bombs so he built some. He never exploded one, nor threatened to. He just wanted to see if he could do it.
Having done something of that sort at age 14 – I am sure there is a statute of limitations at work here – I suppose I have a bit of sympathy. Of course I made mine down by the hog pond having turned the hogs out into a previously harvested cornfield, and he was working in a city apartment, so I suppose it’s right that he be charged with endangerment – but if he wants to volunteer for the Army bomb squad I’d let him go do it. Rather see him there than in jail…
I see on tonight‘s news that sexual harassment in the military is now one of the gravest of problems. It must be “solved.”
Of course a long time ago this was predicted as an inevitable consequence of making military service a “right” and sexually integrating the services. It was unfair to women to exclude them from any part of the military, and any attempt to segregate the sexes was just wrong.
Of course the purpose of a military is to break things and kill people; to win battles; and the kind of people who do that are not always those we want as our neighbors. The French long ago created the Foreign Legion for that purpose. They never though of making membership a right, and ringing women into the Legion barracks.
It is certainly the case that women can do many of the functions of military forces. It is also true that one has to have career paths for the troops at the sharp end. When the fighting me begin to think it unfair that women are promoted over them through a quota system, that has an effect. If your goal is to have a sexually integrated service with no segregation of the sexes while also having no sexual harassment you may have set yourself a more difficult task than you think.
It may be easier to win battles than to integrate your armed forces without sexual harassment. History doesn’t show many successful military forces with sexual integration – except of course the present one. Which, we are now told, suffers from an intolerable problem of sexual harassment that must be rooted out of the system. And of course full sexual integration of the forces requires that mothers be sent overseas at the need of the unit, not making much allowance for the needs f the children – who are future citizens and future warriors.
I know that women can perform many of the military functions, and probably do some of them better than men can. But to try to erase sexual differences while building an invincible military has yet to be done; and the flurry of complaints about sexual harassment suggest that it’s not going as well as we would like it to. Yes, certainly, it’s a lovely ideal and we have had some movies based on the notion of absolute equality of the sexes in military forces. We have rather fewer examples of battles and wars won by forces that enforce absolute egalitarianism.
It will be interesting to see what comes next. The Navy has a long experience of men at sea; rather less than men and women at sea; if it’s going to work anywhere it should be in the Navy and perhaps the Air Force. We’ll see, But is the goal to win battles or to demonstrate sexual integration?
Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for the West as it commits suicide. James Burnham made that observation log ago, and as the Soviet Union collapsed we all forgot it. Let’s hope that we know how to bring this off and build a thoroughly integrated force that wins battles and can be deployed when and where it is needed.
View 775 Monday, Thursday, May 09, 2013
Today’s LA Times has two education essays. One is “Closing the Education Gap” by Michele Siqeiros. It’s on the editorial page, and it’s a pretty standard exhortation . “The state must develop a comprehensive strategy for public K-12 education, adult education and higher education systems for addressing remedial education.” We have to spend more money, and we have to pick up where the schools have left off or are leaving off, etc. etc.
Apparently they admit that the schools are awful and probably unfixable so we need to set up a second education system for remedial education. That will certainly hire a lot of teachers. It beats the Mexico system where a bunch of education students in one of the colonies are holding 8 state policemen hostage demanding that they all be employed on graduation. I hope I am imagining having read that is happening, and even more I hope it was in Mexico and not somewhere in the US. So we need to fix the system with remedial education at all levels. Apparently we just write off the enormous sums being spent on the present failing system,.
The second essay isn’t supposed to be an essay but a front page story. My edition of the paper has it as “A Milder Way to Fight Defiance” by Teresa Watenade http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/12/local/la-me-adv-lausd-discipline-20130513 and it appears above the fold on page one.
“Damien Valentine knows painfully well about a national phenomenon that is imperiling the academic achievement of minority students, particularly African Americans like himself: the pervasive and disproportionate use of suspensions from school for mouthing off and other acts of defiance.
The Manual Arts Senior High School sophomore has been suspended several times beginning in seventh grade, when he was sent home for a day and a half for refusing to change his seat because he was talking. He said the suspensions never helped him learn to control his behavior but only made him fall further behind.
"Getting suspended doesn’t solve anything," Valentine said. "It just ruins the rest of the day and keeps you behind."
But Valentine, who likes chemistry and wants to be a doctor, is determined to change school discipline practices. He has joined a Los Angeles County-wide effort to push a landmark proposal by school board President Monica Garcia that would make L.A. Unified the first school district in California to ban suspensions for willful defiance.”
The rest is about the same. And of course it’s another attack on the notion of schools as places of opportunity to get an education. They’re not that: a school is a place you are entitled to be at, whether you belong there or not, whether you behave yourself or not, whether you are capable of learning or not; and Damien Valentine has as much right to be there, and to talk in class, and defy the teachers, and make it impossible for those around him actually learn something, as anyone else. The fact that Damien’s presence is one reason for the failure of the schools doesn’t seem to impress anyone.
The answer it seems is “restorative justice” in which the teacher spends a lot of time “working with” Damien and those like him. Teachers “exchange letters” with disruptive students, “each taking some blame and pledging to better cooperate.” Of course time spent with Damien and his ilk is taken from the students who just want to learn and who don’t insist on their right to be disruptive, and don’t insist on “restorative justice” if they are disciplined.
So long as the voodoo “education science” insists on transferring educational resources from those who can and want to learn, to Damien and others who are more concerned with their rights than their education, and who render themselves pretty well impervious to actual education, we are never going to have schools in which all but a very few learn to read, write, cipher, learn some civics, and generally have an educational foundation that helps them go out and find jobs or go to college. We need remedial education, not for Damien, but for those that Damien robbed of the chance to get an education in the regular system.
We must pour more money into the schools so that there can be restorative justice for Damien and others like him; we must no have enforcement of discipline and teacher control of the classroom; and of course it is senseless to question what the results of all this will be. We don’t need to. We can see what the results are.
One result is increased class rigidity. There are those who go to good schools with hard discipline – they are the children of the rich, and a favored few who manage on some sort of charity or scholarship. There are those who live in the parts of town where the students tend not to talk in class and tell the teacher to shut up when they are disciplined, and who manage to get through a public school, so that they can now go to a college where they acquire a lifetime debt. And those whose parents can pay or work the system so that the kids can graduate without those crushing debts.
For a while it looked as if we were working on a system that paid attention to The Bell Curve and did trend toward a meritocracy; but now apparently we are to dismantle all that. The way to be sure that no child is left behind is to make sure that only the rich kids get ahead. The rest are to be subjected to Damien Valentine, who was wronged by the system and must be rendered restorative justice; and the teacher needs to spend time exchanging letters with those who won’t accept classroom discipline, or else must support the union which protects her from that stuff, and whatever the union’s faults it at least doesn’t make her spend her scarce free time in T-groups and sensitivity training, but can just get on with teaching those who want to learn. Given those choices I’d support the union. I don’t want to exchange letters with Damien. But Damien wants to be a doctor, and all those suspensions “never helped him learn to control his behavior but only made him fall further behind”, and he wants to be a doctor, and surely there are patients who deserve him? So it is time for retributive justice.
The well disciplined kids who want to learn might actually learn something: but they better want it pretty badly, because the teacher is busy apologizing for disciplining the defiant.
Apologies for the rant. I presume that those who are in this crazy movement really believe the voodoo social science garbage they have been fed. Alas, I suspect that some know perfectly well what they are doing. If teachers are evaluated on actual results – how many students can actually do calculus when they graduate high school – then a lot of teachers aren’t going to be given the bright students to work with. But that’s another story for another time. Apologies for the rant. But not many.
If you want your kids to get ahead, learn about the Kahn Academy lectures, and learn more about Art Robinson’s education programs. Make sure they can all read, and by read I mean read anything including nonsense words like montheoretics and polydodmanite by the time they are in second grade. If they can’t read those words they can’t read. And note that they won’t know the meaning. Learning the meanings of words is important, but first you need to be able to READ words you have never seen before. If you want to be sure of it all, start them at age five on Mrs. Pournelle’s Reading Program http://www.readingtlc.com/. But it’s your job: don’t rely on the school system, because the goal of the schools is retributive justice, whatever that is, not teaching the kids anything at all.
I’ll have the California Sixth Grade Reader ready as an eBook shortly. It will help; the notion is to show what all California sixth graders were expected to read in 1914 – and with luck get out 10th graders up to that level. But for your kids, you’d best be able to get them up to that level in 5th grade. Which you can do, you know. Our modern protoplasm isn’t inferior to that of rural Florida or California back in the days of World War One…
The pledge drive ended reasonably well. For those who don’t know what that is, this place operates on the Public Radio model. It’s free but it needs to be supported if it’s going to stay in business. I run my pledge drives when KUSC the LA Classical Music station runs theirs. I don’t bug you about money much except at those times. The drive is ending, and thanks to those who subscribed or renewed. If you haven’t subscribed yet, this would be a great time to do it; and if you haven’t renewed in a while, it is never too late. And that’s enough about money for a while.
View 773 Friday, May 10, 2013
The pledge drive continues, and thanks to all those who have opened new subscriptions or renewed their old ones. This site operates on the Public Radio plan, meaning that it is free to all, but it remains open only as long as it gets enough subscribers to keep it open. If you have not subscribed this would be a good time to do it. And if you haven’t renewed in a while, this would be a great time…
The good news is that I pretty well confine my appeals to pledge week, and I don’t do pledge weeks until KUSC, the LA classical music station, does theirs. And I don’t do advertisements. As I said, the Public Radio model…
There is a bit of a lull in news about the Benghazi affair. It is the duty of the Congress to act as the Grand Inquest of the Nation, and we have the death of our ambassador to explain and policies to prevent this sort of thing to develop.
Subject: The Benghazi Incident
Jerry, as you can probably guess, I’m not exactly a fan of our current president. However, in this case, I can only find one fault with what he did: in my opinion, at least, he turned the job over to the wrong person. This isn’t a matter of 20/20 hindsight; if I’d been asked at the time who should be in charge, I’d have said the same thing: he should have given the job to the Secretary of the Navy.
I say this for two reasons. First, the Navy was almost certainly going to be doing the job, so you might as well give them control. Second, it’s a long-standing tradition that the President can commit the Navy (and, of course, the Marines) on his own authority, but using the Army requires Congressional approval. In this case, of course, I can’t know how effective any intervention would have been, but I’m sure that something would have been done, and the Marines would have been as eager to land at Benghazi as they were on the shores of Tripoli.
That’s pretty close to my view. Of course what came after that, with the cover-ups and the talking points, and the rest is a bunch of political nonsense designed to obscure facts, but the simple truth seems to be that the President was in over his head, understood that, and turned it over to people who had convinced him they were smart enough to handle their jobs. I am disappointed in Panetta: he had the authority. Why didn’t he use it? As to handing it to the Navy, we are very much in agreement.
Bring back the Iwo Jima
LHD 7 is still out there.
She has the 26th MEU embarked now http://www.navy.mil/local/lhd7/
Actually the present Iwo Jima is a new ship built to replace the old LPH Iwo Jima, which it did well. It is supposed to be in the Mediterranean and had it been anywhere near Syrtis Major could have easily handled the Benghazi situation. It is a great puzzlement that given unrest in the area and the deployment of the US Ambassador from Tripoli over to Benghazi there were no support assets over there. The USS Tripoli, an Iwo Jima class LPH, was my son’s first sea deployment ship back during the Somalia incidents. She and the Iwo Jima have been scrapped.
The new Iwo Jima is Wasp class, and a bit fancier than the LPH Iwo Jima. It is more capable but also more expensive.
My point mostly was that if we are going to act as if we are the great superpower of the world, the original analysis of Cold War days leasing to the assessment of a requirement for a rapid response force that could inject a battalion of Marines anywhere along the shorelines seems relevant, although certainly needs revision from the time I worked on that problem in the 1950’s. If we are going to meddle in Arab affairs we need a force majeure that can react swiftly to get our agents out fast: few terrorist groups or even local militias care to face a full battalion of helicopter-supported Marines, and sending enough force is usually the best way to avoid actual combat.
Think of this as a ramble. I haven’t thought in detail about these matters for a while because I do not have access to operational details, and it’s details that dictate the actual force requirements. On a strategic level, it’s clear that if we are going in meddle in Arab affairs we need a way to get the meddlers out of there at need.
My first thought was, what was the position of the moon each day these were taken.
Was the tide in or out?
A daily overlay might be a better example.
Glacial advances and retreats are more a function of rainfall than temperature, and that tends to change in cyclical ways. The rain/drought cycles change across the world. But those are striking pictures, and there’s a good bit to think about.
Regarding your recent columns, there is a successor planned for Hipparchos, Gaia, scheduled to be launched this October by the ESA. It should be capable of doing parallax measurements to some tens of thousands of light years, and easily refine/confirm/refute current "standard candle" definitions.
I wonder about the accuracies at that distance, but it should get astronomy back to observations and data, not theoretical calculations. In particular we can verify the size of the Andromeda Nebula, and thus its absolute brightness, which will help a lot with detgermining distance to far distant nebulae.
Yesterday was spent with Niven, mostly working. And now I have to pay the bills.
View 773 Thursday, May 09, 2013
Pledge week continues. This journal operates on the Public Radio model – it is free to all, but it will continue only so long as enough people subscribe. If you have not subscribed, this would be a great time to do it. We encourage you to become a patron of this place of rational discussion. It is also a daybook. If you have subscribed but have not renewed in a while, this would be a good time to do that. Since this is a Public Radio model site, I hold periodic pledge drives. I time them according to the pledge drives of KUSC, the Los Angeles good music station. They’re having their Spring drive now which is why you are seeing this. Normally I don’t pound on you with exhortations.
And thanks to all those who have already responded to this Spring pledge drive, both with new subscriptions and renewal of older ones.
Discussion of the Benghazi Incident in which the American Consulate in Benghazi was left hung out to dry in the face of a major terrorist attack over a period of some ten hours resulted in the deaths of four Americans including the US Ambassador to the newly “liberated” Libya continues without much result. For reasons not yet revealed, the US Ambassador to the United Nations went on national television five times with the story that the Benghazi Incident was a general uprising in reaction to an obscure anti-Prophet video posted on You tube. This supposedly erupted into a spontaneous demonstration which grew into an actual attack by mortars and other heavy weapons. Various US responses including sending in a military reaction team to secure the Benghazi airport and conduct an evacuation of US personnel were contemplated, and at one point a team was ready to depart from Tripoli when it was told to stand down. We do not know who gave the order to stand down – either who was directly responsible for conveying the order, or who originated it. Normally the US military is more clear in defining its chain of command.
The US State Department second in command in Libya (a career Foreign Service Officer who was in Tripoli) was told by the Ambassador on the telephone that the Consulate in Benghazi (and the Ambassador personally) was under armed attack. There was no mention of a video or of any spontaneous demonstration. He has since been demoted from second in command to a desk officer. No explanation of this has been published.
The Congress is the Grand Inquest of the Nation, and it is supposed to determine why extraordinary events happen. Such inquiries can be used as political weapons, but that is not their purpose. One would think that both political parties would be interested in knowing how such a thing could happen and what the US, with the world’s most powerful military establishment, might do for the future. Perhaps a company of airborne troops on ready alert in each major theater? That might be overly expensive. Still we have this greatly powerful military – surely that confers some capabilities? We have carrier groups. We have various air weapons. Has no one given any thought to such matters?
And for the record, the President left the scene at 5 PM with the instruction to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State to “do what you have to do”, which I would have read as a blank check to include anything up to a nuclear weapons response. One can understand that a President with no military experience might turn the matter over to the Department of War (well, we call it defense now). It may be that he simply went back to the domestic quarters of the White House having left the matter in what he thought was good hands with full power to deal with it.
What happened was that nothing happened. No rescue units were sent, no airplanes were sent to buzz the area, no tankers were sent to stand by to refuel any fighters that might be sent; there not only was no single integrated operational plan (although one might think that on the anniversary of 9/11 there might be some reason to have some active forces on ready alert), there don’t seem to have been any plans at all for dealing with major incidents in Northern Africa – an area that is still volatile.
Is that worth discussion? Are operational plans being formed now? Have any units been designated as standby for alert in case of a repeat incident? If so I don’t know of any. It all seems very odd.
In past times here wasn’t a lot of choice. Technology dictated that we would do nothing but react to incidents of this sort although I seem to recall that we had contingency plans on how we could react swiftly – it was the lack of any real operational plan that led to the developments in the early days of the Korean War with the defeat of Task Force Smith and the near disaster when the Pusan Perimeter was threatened. MacArthur and the Marines saved us at Inchon, but with that came a determination that we would be more ready in future. Of course that is a long time ago and few will remember those times.
The Iwo Jima class helicopter carriers with a battalion of Marines aboard were designed to be the ready force available for brush fire wars and general world peace keeping. They came about due to a number of strategic theory papers published in the 1950’s: a way to project a fair amount of force in a reasonable time. They were built and in use in the last part of the 20th Century, and were quite effective. Over time they were sold off and scrapped, supposedly replaced with more effective systems. Perhaps so but has a couple of Iwo Jima class ships been cruising the Mediterranean the Benghazi incident would not have happened. Of course those ships were not cheap and keeping operational level of troops on alert is expensive, but if we have goals requiring the projection of force we need to have forces to project.
Perhaps we need to rethink the need for swift reaction forces for the future with the technologies available to us now. They would be useful for either a Republic or a Competent Empire.
It has been a while since I gave serious thought to these matters; but it is time someone did.
Subject: space shuttle main computers
They required a cold plate to keep from burning up. Brute force, the flower of 1970′s tech. 24 layer printed circuit boards etc.
Even more primitive than I remembered.
You missed this ( or at least didn’t point it out ) in the link about the space shuttle’s computer.
"The shuttle software was written in HAL/S, a special-purpose high-level language."
Arthur C. Clarke, where are you?
"Open the pod bay doors, HAL."
View 773 Wednesday, May 08, 2013
I posted a mixed bag mailbag earlier today. It has some interesting items and comments.
I’m trying to catch up. In theory this ought to be pledge week – KUSC is having their Spring Pledge Drive, which means that I sort of do the same. This site operates on the Public Radio model: it’s free to all but if not enough subscribe to support it, then it will go away. I don’t spend much time bugging you about this, but whenever KUSC, the Los Angeles classical music station, does a pledge week I do the same. But since I didn’t have much going in the first part of the week, I decided not to inflict the pledge drive on you. If you haven’t subscribed, this would be a good time to do it. If you haven’t renewed your subscription in a while this would be a good time to do that.
The news today is dominated by the recovery of the three young women kidnapped a decade ago and kept in slavery in a house in Cleveland. I expect we’ll have to comment on that at some point, but mostly I am reminded of the conclusions Possony and I reached many years ago: societies deep in decadence and subject to revolutions tend to have a massive increase in bizarre crimes as harbinger. Of course as the population grows the absolute number of all crimes increases, but still, we do seem to have a lot of the bizarre…
The other story of the day is that the Congress is acting as The Grand Inquest of the Nation in looking at the Benghazi Affair. This is a necessary and proper power of the Congress and has been known from the earliest days. It should not be a simple political witch hunt. And it is important to understand just who ordered the C-130 with the rescue teams about to take off from Tripoli to stand down. Who issued the order, and why? And there may be very legitimate reasons for that: it’s one reason I don’t want to play with breaking news. But I am glad to see Congress acting properly here.
Continuing the discussion of The Static Universe by South African astronomer Hilton Ratcliffe. Radcliffe’s style can be irritating, and one definitely has to read his book twice because he assumes you know things he won’t get to until two chapters later; but he does a fair job of raising doubts about the Standard Cosmology Theory with its Expanding Universe, Big Bang, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, massive Black Holes, and other constructs necessary for the Theory but which have not been observed, and in some cases can’t be observed from here. The Standard Theory seemed rather simple when I learned it in high school, and seemed confirmed by the discovery of the 3◦ microwave background radiation by a pair of Bell Labs radio engineers. True, it was about 20 times smaller than the background radiation Gamow had calculated, (and was very similar to the background temperature expected by the static universe theorists well before the Big Bang was postulated); but there it was, a universal background, the temperature left over from the Big Bang. I remember the headlines. I was involved in missiles and space analysis at the time and didn’t have much time to appreciate it, but I remember being impressed.
Ratcliffe devotes the largest chapter of his book to this radiation and possible causes of it, and if you ignore the snarky language, he does make a pretty good point: it’s predicted by many theories, and it’s smaller than the Expanding Universe Standard Theory expected it to be.
: Did you C that? —
OK, I’m definitely out of my league in this group on this subject, but someone here surely knows something about this.
As Mr. Beaufils pointed out, much of cosmology is based on assumptions. Assumptions should be re-examined from time to time to see if they still hold water (or whatever it is they are supposed to hold). You will be familiar with this notion since you have been exposed to Korzybski.
So, what about the speed of light? We assume that it is constant not only in space but in time. That is, it was the same yesterday as it is today, on back through the eons. But is it? Googling reveals that there are those who don’t think so and they can point to the fact (which I am not equipped to check) that every time we measure C, it gets smaller. Not by a lot, but one would expect that errors in accuracy would be random – some smaller and some greater. But with C, it’s always smaller, apparently.
The implications are non-trivial. If C were significantly larger in the past, then objects are not nearly as far away as we think.
As you are wont to say, “it may well be that the universe is not only queerer than you imagine, but queerer than you can imagine.”
I am convinced that it is queerer than we can imagine; QED convinces me of that. But that doesn’t mean it has to be so complicated that it takes tensors to explain it. I am prepared to believe that the speed of light is different in different media – few dispute that – and that there is no vacuum: space is never empty. As to what medium light waves in (if any) I consider that still an open question. One thing is certain. If we don’t know how far away things are it’s hard to tell how long light took to get here from there, and what objects or media pools it had to go through to get here.
Mike Flynn, sometime collaborator and statistical inference expert who dabbles in philosophy says
Medieval science and logical positivism
You quote Feynman as saying "It was thought in the Middle Ages that people simply make many observations, and the observations themselves suggest laws." This is only partly correct. The whole process as described by Grosseteste was a loop. The Aristotelians held that all knowledge begins in the senses (which may be why mathematics has always flirted with Plato!) But they would have been puzzled by the suggestion that inanimate "observations" could ever "suggest" anything. From the quia, or particulars, the natural philosopher derived a propter quid, or rationale, by inductive reasoning, a la the Posterior Analytics. Then using this propter quid and deductive reasoning, a la the Prior Analytics, conclude to the quia. But Grosseteste emphasized two things.
1. The deductive phase ought to conclude to quia that were not part of the formation of the propter quid. Otherwise the reasoning would be circular. In modern terms, the theory ought to predict facts that were not included in the original reasoning.
2. Between the inductive and deductive phases, the philosopher must perform the "work of the intellect" (negotiatio intellectus). That is, he must consider all the various explanations of the phenomena under examination and determine which of them is truer to the facts. For example, in concluding from the phases of the Moon that the Moon <i>must</i> be a sphere, the philosopher would consider all sorts of other geometric shapes: a plate seen flat-on, a cylinder seen base-on, etc., and show how each of them fails in some manner. This is a work that many Late Moderns, even scientists, now neglect. Publish-or-perish does not permit measured reflection, and one usually goes with some bright notion, never considering other possible explanations. Feynman was being very Feyerabendian because he recognized that facts do not explain themselves. There is always more than one theory that can explain the same set of facts.
But it is also the case, as Einstein told Heisenberg, that theory determines what can be observed. That is, our prior beliefs will not only condition how we see the observations, but also determine what observations we consider important to make. Keep in mind that all astronomical observations for more than two millennia were adequately explained by Ptolemaic models. Right up to the discovery of the phases of Venus. The Ptolemaic model predicted Venerian phases, too; but not the same phases as were seen. Whereupon, astronomers abandoned Ptolemy for… (wait for it) … the Tychonic and Ursine models. Tycho’s system was mathematically equivalent to the Copernican and matched it, prediction for prediction. It was up to physics, not astronomy, to cast the deciding ballot: ca. 1800, with the measurement of actual Coriolis effects and parallax in the fixed stars. (And somewhat earlier, but less surely, of stellar aberration.)
In all this it is well to keep in mind something Aristotle said:
We are far away from the things we are trying to inquire into, not only in place but more so in that we have sensation of exceedingly few of their accidents.” – De Caelo, 2.3.286a5-7
It is good to inquire about these things and so to deepen our understanding, although we have little to go on and we are situated at such a great distance from the attributes of these things. Nevertheless, from contemplating such things nothing [we infer] should seem to be unreasonable, holding them now as fraught with difficulties.
– De Caelo, 2.12.292a14-18
Thomas Aquinas also appreciated the work of the intellect. He noted on his Commentary on the Physics as well as en passant in:
“The theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them.”
– Summa theologica, I, q.32, a.1, ad. 2
Which led Pope Urban to comment to Cardinal Zollern (who then wrote Galileo in a personal letter) that “the Church had not condemned nor was about to condemn Copernicanism as heretical but that the theory was rash and that, furthermore, astronomical theories were of such a kind that they could never be shown to be necessarily true.” So Pope beat Popper by 300 years. (This BTW was the comment that Galileo mocked in the Dialogue and got himself into deep kimchee.)
Anyhow, the medieval method can be found explained from a modern perspective here:
and continuing through #11
The phenomenon of certain astronomical objects travelling faster than the speed of light is known as Superluminal motion:
and can often be easily described as an optical illusion from material travelling at relativistic speeds. Of course, whether that describes everything that is observed is another question. I’ve done some work on one of these objects (M87), and for this particular object I’d be surprised if another explanation came to light. I don’t know about other objects.
As for the determination of distances, this is known as the Distance Ladder, of which a reasonable description is given here:
And Cepheid variables *are* bright enough to determine distances to the nearest galaxies that are subject to cosmological redshift (max distance about 29 Mpc), and thus callibrate that rung of the distance ladder
- that’s how Hubble originally made his discoveries in the first place.
The initial callibration by Hubble at the time was wrong, but it’s drastically improved over the years, although not without many bumps along the way. It was also one of the key missions of the Hubble Space Telescope. The HST observations are given here:
I hope this helps!
A fair statement of the Standard Theory. Ratcliffe picks holes in that by pointing out that not much of that ladder is based on primary observations, and many observations are cast out as ‘anomalies.’ Of course most Cosmologists believe in the Standard Theory. I tend to glitch at postulating Dark Matter and Dark Energy as the major components of the universe. Why would God play such a trick on us? But of course such questions are way outside science.
The distance ladder depends on accurate measurement of distance to the nearest galaxy, M31, better known as the Andromeda Galaxy. Hubble estimated that it was 900,000 lightyears away. He underestimated the luminosity of the Cepheids and thus greatly underestimated the distance., which we now believe to be nearly 3 million lightyears. Incorrect distances lead to incorrect estimates of the sizes of the galaxies. And triangulation only works out to about a hundred parsecs, and that with a 10% error. We are probably getting better and better at that, and one hopes that we will be able to use some form of triangulation out to a thousand parsecs at some point; but that puts us a very long way from finding the distance to M31 or even to the Magellanic Clouds. The ladder is built heavily on theory, and the theory must make a number of assumptions about light and the media it moves in.
I have no expertise in the accuracy of estimating the absolute magnitude of Cepheid Variables, but I note that Hubble himself was off by a factor of four – and this on fairly close objects in which we can see something of what’s between us and M31. Which doesn’t mean the Standard Theory is wrong, but it does indicate that it’s legitimate to question it, particularly when distance estimates depend on accepting the Standard Expansion Theory, thus making it rather circular after a few hundred million parsecs…
Quasars with a proper motion
I am minded of an article (possibly tongue-in-cheek) by Ben Bova and published in Analog many years back, in which he suggested that quasars might not be the fantastically distant, fantastically huge energy sources they seem, but the flare of Bussard ramjets blasting their way around this neck of the galaxy. Presumably we would see both blue-shifted as well as red-shifted signatures and, depending on distance, proper motion
I do not recall ever seeing any kind of follow-up, whether in fiction or speculative fact. However, the hypothesis should be easily testable, although long-term observation would probably be needed: Do any of the objects display acceleration over time? Do any vanish or appear? Whatever the answer, what will we do with it?
Thanks for all you do. Be well.
Ralph A. Moss
Good story. I vaguely recall it. Niven and I briefly thought about a story with that premise.
Hydrogren Fusion in the Sun
The fusion process in the sun is known as the PPI cycle. It runs like this:
p + p -> 2D + (e+) + v
2D + p -> 3He + (gama ray photon)
3He + 3He -> 4He + 2p
where the numbers to the left of the letters are to be superscripted, the "p" is a proton, the "D" is dueterium, the "(e+)" is a positron, and the "v" is an electron neutrino. You can see that the second step must happen twice in order to supply the required inputs for the third step. What you cannot see is that the predictions that the core of the Sun was too cool to allow this reaction were based upon classical calculations. When quantum effects are taken into account, it is seen that at the temperatures and pressures at the core of the sun, the protons can readily tunnel past the Coulomb barrier your reader from Paris was alluding to. Even with quantum effects taken into considerations, however, this first step is the most difficult to accomplish and drives the rate of the entire reaction and is responsible for the fact that the Sun will take roughly 10 billion years to exhaust its supply of hydrogen.
Kevin L Keegan
There are some other inconsistencies in solar observations. Our Sun’s corona is hotter than the surface under it. That wasn’t expected. Does this change what people on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti see as the temperature and luminosity of our Sun? I confess I don’t know, but then I don’t know a lot about astrophysics of the Sun. I doubt I ever will understand all of it.
subject: "Consensus Theory of Climate Change"
I prefer the term "Climate Creation Science".
Matthew Joseph Harrington
"What occurreth in Gomorrah, stayeth in Gomorrah."
View 773 Tuesday, May 07, 2013
I’m slowly recovering from whatever it was that bit me.
I am still reading The Static Universe. It states that there are QUASARS with measurable proper motion, but whose red shift distance places them so far away that the motion we see and measure has to be orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light. That seems inconsistent with the General Theory of Relativity on which the whole notion of red shift as the proper measure of distance to the objects is based. There are other observations totally at odds with the Standard Cosmology. I am not so familiar with the literature on Cosmology, but if this book is at all correct, the Standard Theory has been falsified. The Expanding Universe as we were taught it in high school is not correct, and we have not the foggiest notion of how far away a number of cosmological objects are; which means we do not have to accept the Standard Theory with its postulated (but not observed) Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and mega-massive Black Holes. Indeed, we really don’t know a lot about the universe beyond a few hundred lightyears. We have a scientific consensus and a peer review group that accepts the Standard Theory and discourages publications of observations that seem to contradict it, but in fact the consensus is not based on the preponderance of the observed data.
Which sounds a lot like the Consensus Theory of Climate Change.
‘Cosmologists’ are to astronomers as ‘educators’ are to teachers, one finds.
I’m deeply suspicious of anything beyond the most basic, coarse-grained principles of quantum mechanics which we’re fairly sure we sort of understand at a superficial level of detail. As far as I can tell, the rest is pretty much all supposition based on assumptions about an unscientifically-small number of actual data-points.
Richard Feynman insisted that no one, including him, understood Quantum ElectroDynamics. He could teach you how to do quantum calculations, and to make theories that could be verified by experiment, but he could not tell you how to understand it. What he could do was look carefully at observations. He was careful to point out that Newton never understood gravity, and neither do we, but Newton could generate hypotheses from observations. Now Feynman was addicted to data and observations, and to the best of my knowledge pretty thoroughly accepted the operational philosophy of science,
We have this from The Meaning of Everything:
It was thought in the Middle Ages that people simply make many observations, and the observations themselves suggest laws. But it does not work that way. It takes much more imagination than that. So the next thing we have to talk about is where the new ideas come from. Actually, it does not make any difference, as long as they come. We have a way of checking whether an idea is correct that has nothing to do with where it came from. We simply test it against observation. So in science we are not interested in where an idea comes from.
Feynman had little good to say about philosophy, but I find that paragraph more valuable than a semester I spent studying logical positivism under Gustav Bergmann. When I began as an undergraduate I thought I was a logical positivist, until I learned what that meant. Philosophy of Science under Bergmann was an important experience. I suppose I came away as an adherent of Karl Popper, but that’s a different story. I did find Bergmann a refreshing antidote to the unrelenting behaviorism of the University of Iowa Psychology Department.
Re: Static Universe
There are a few points to be made on this subject, in my opinion.
The first is that the anomaly in the local area around the Milky Way can be explained by the fact that the Local Group is gravitationally bound. Also, in any system such as this there are bound to be random motions that have nothing to do with the grand scheme; orbital velocities of stars in the Galactic disk are fairly uniform but there are random variations, for example.
The expansion hypothesis is supported at large distances by data from type Ia supernovae (I think that’s right) which are rather uniform standard candles for reasons connected with the basic physics of the supernovae themselves.
The equations of general relativity pretty well demand either a contracting or an expanding universe; the only way to get around this is to introduce a fudge factor (famously known as the cosmological constant) which has to be set to ridiculous precision (120+ significant figures) at an early period of the Universe in order to leave us with the universe we are actually in. Either that, or general relativity is wrong; but there is rather a lot of evidence for relativity and very little against.
Finally, the Hipparcos mission has the primary purpose of determining positions and parallaxes for millions of stars. The precision is high enough that parallax measurements as a yardstick can be pushed out a long way; IIRC the figure is about 500 light years. Useful, because Polaris is closer than that.
Yes: the extension of parallax methods of determining distance to a Cepheid variable has made it possible to determine accuracies out to to other galaxies in the Local Group by giving a better measure of the distances to a given Cepheid well beyond the limits of parallax measurements. Unfortunately the red shift method of determining distances doesn’t work in that region, as I understand it.
As to the evidence for and against relativity theory, the major ‘against’ is its complexity. Beckmann asserted that his entailed aether could explain all the observations with far simpler math and fewer assumptions. Starting with observed data and generating a new set of theories is of course very difficult, and may never happen.
The reason the Hubble shift was assumed to be a Doppler shift is that nobody had a plausible alternative explanation. This assumption was based on the theory that space was a perfect vacuum. It isn’t. Quantum Mechanics predicts "virtual" particles appearing and being annihilated almost instantly. This is experimentally demonstrated by the Casimir effect. Light slows down in a dense (non-vacuum) medium. This implies an energy loss – the red shift. Note also that there is no known way to measure the velocity of light from a distant object.
Ratcliffe’s The Static Universe makes that point: there is no such thing as a vacuum. I don’t think he questions the absolute invariance of the speed of light in a vacuum, but since there is no vacuum… Some Quasars have enormous red shift yet they have detectable proper motion. If we have no real idea of the size of the visible universe… Well, it’s something to think about. But all observed red shifts cannot be a simple Doppler effect of expansion.
Despite it’s name, astrophysics is barely a science, or more accurately, very little of it has the same reliability as physics.
The core problem is the dearth of direct observation and the small size of the observation database.
Therefore Astrophysicists have to:
1) rely on a lot of second-hand data
2) assume that conditions which apply in the Solar system also apply everywhere else.
2) is further compounded by the scarcity of direct observation even within the Solar system.
So most of what’s presented as knowledge about the universe is actually but speculation, not groundless speculation but speculation still.
Almost every time we send a probe to a new part of the Solar system, we discover that things there are different, sometimes dramatically, from what was until then the accepted truth.
If Earth-based observation gives such unreliable results for objects that are only a few AU’s away from us, how can we assume that our hypotheses about objects that are even a few parsecs away actually describe what’s there?
My favorite example is the Sun: it’s supposed to be fueled by H-H fusion, yet it doesn’t seem to be hot enough for it to happen. The cold, hard truth is that astrophysicists are telling us it works on handwavium. It’s just 1AU away but we have no idea of what really happens inside.
Similarly, if dark matter had been invented in an sf book, there’d be flame wars about whether it’s handwavium or unobtainium.
It’s not very important as actual discoveries are made, like extrasolar planets, and faulty theories about galaxies millions of light-years away won’t kill anybody – not before someone invents a really good warp drive anyway!
What really irks me is this acceptance of speculation as solid science blurs the general public’s understanding of what constitutes a proven scientific theory, something you can base important decisions on, and what is mere opinion – climate is what comes to mind here…
Some random thoughts:
As I recollect, Fr. Lemaitre derived the expanding universe from the field equations for general relativity. DeSitter space was unstable, but Einstein cooked the books with the Cosmological Constant simply in order to maintain a steady state universe. Nevertheless, it still moved, and Einstein was eventually convinced. In any case, Lemaitre predicted the redshift and the cosmic background radiation. Hubble discovered the former before Lemaitre’s paper had been translated into English (and the English translation was edited to omit the prediction). News of the discovery of the latter was delivered to Lemaitre on his deathbed.
Somewhere along the line, at a conference in California – it may have been one of the Solvay conferences – Fred Hoyle noticed Fr. Lemaitre enter the auditorium, nudged the man next to him and said, "Here comes the big bang man." A legend was born. He meant the term as a put-down, because the idea of the universe having a beginning offended his beliefs; but he and Lemaitre became friends during a road trip to meet Hubble and other American astronomers.
There is a strange parallel between using apparent redshift to estimate galactic distances and the way the medievals used brightness to estimate stellar distances. The dimmer and smaller the star, they farther off they were. But it turned out that some stars were just dimmer than others, and the apparent diameters were artifacts of atmospheric aberration. It’s quite possible redshift is likewise due in part to expansion and in part to other factors.
It’s not too strange that locally we find both red and blue shifts. Locally, stars are whirling around the galactic center, and it seems likely that the Local Group is likewise moving locally due to gravitational attraction among galaxies. So the general motion will be more evident farther away, much as the flow of a river will be more evident looking at the river as a whole rather than the whorls and eddies in the immediate vicinity.
I also wonder because the more distant objects are as they were millions of years ago, not as they are now. So might they be moving faster simply because the universe was expanding faster in the distant past? But surely this is known and corrected for.
Of course, I’m no big fat expert.
All of which gives us quite enough to think about. I suppose I need to come out of the Cosmic realm and back to the society we live in.
I would be astonished if there were one single explanation for redshift. But if redshift is our best way to determine distance to an observed very distant object, we need to know when and how to rely on it.
Light from a million lighyears distance travels through a lot of space. How much of that is empty? Sir Fred Hoyle had his ideas on that. And he certainly didn’t believe in the Big Bang. From what I recall of Feynman he would have been delighted to find that everything we knew about Cosmology was wrong…
If you’re looking for a good book to recommend to a young reader, try Starswarm. Adults like it too…
View 773 Monday, May 06, 2013
I woke up, had breakfast, and essentially spent the day in bed accomplishing nothing today. I am not sure what has got me, but I think the day’s rest has got me past it. More tomorrow. Apologies for the weekend funk.
The world continues, with strange stories.
‘The head of a rival kindergarten is reported to have confessed to lacing the yogurt with rat poison because the two schools were both trying to attract children.’
Kerbal Space Program (Space Program Simulation Game)
After reading the review on Kerbal Space Program that you linked to, I decided to download the demo to try over the weekend. I was quickly hooked and bought the full version the following Monday.
I was expecting a fairly basic "build a rocket and launch it" game. I was wrong. If you design your rocket poorly, expect it to fall over and explode on the launch pad…or lift off and then explode, or lift off and then crash. Through some trial and error, you can make it out of the atmosphere, but then you need to establish a stable orbit.
If you get really ambitious, you can start heading for the moon and further destinations…but you will end up learning a little about orbital mechanics and weight to thrust ratios. Fortunately, even if you are a little dense (like me) there are a lot of tutorials available on Youtube. So far, I’ve managed to reach orbit and even land on the moon and return. I definitely have a new respect for what the folks at NASA were able to do during the 60s.
I am rambling a bit, but I do think that many of your readers would find the game interesting and entertaining.
E. Ashley Howell
The new system I use for this journal, unlike the old Front Page system, makes it much harder to insert bookmarks and links into the text but the link is in http://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/?p=13411 about halfway through the mail items. I gather there is considerable material on line about the game and how to play it, with different strategies, and some have used it to design space programs along the lines of those in Niven/Pournelle’s Footfall.
I expect to give it a try myself one of these days.
Last Thursday night at LASFS my friend and colleague John DeChancie brought me a copy of The Static Universe by Hilton Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe is a South African Astronomer who rejects the entire notion of the Expanding Universe on the grounds that there is no real evidence for it, and quite a lot of evidence against it. That seems a very bold statement, since the Standard Cosmological Theory asserts that the universe is expanding according to Hubble’s Law, and while there is considerable controversy over the exact size of Hubble’s Constant, there is no real question about its existence. I have been through the book once, and this is the sort of book that an amateur like me must read at least twice, since understanding some of the material in the first part assumes you things that are discussed later in the book. My understanding is not helped by Ratcliffe’s aggressive and sometime mocking style; and he often assumes that his readers are familiar with arguments that most of us have not been taught.
For all of that, it’s an intriguing book. I can recall in high school being taught the Hubble Expanding Universe as the truth established by science. It hadn’t yet been complicated by the insertion of dark matter and dark energy so that most of the universe turns out to be invisible and unobservable by any direct means (or if those concepts were around they hadn’t reached down to Brother Henry at Christian Brothers College High School in Memphis). We were taught that there was plenty of observational evidence for Hubble’s expanding universe, and indeed we read about Hubble’s observations.
Just about everyone in the civilized world understands now that the Milky Way is a galaxy of millions of stars and that we are in it; and that off at great distances there are other “island universes” – galaxies – as large as or larger than our galaxy. At the time of this discovery astronomers were only just discovering how large the universe really was, because there were no reliable means of measuring the distances to stars and other objects outside our solar system. The best method was to measure the angle to the object at different points in the Earth’s orbit. Even before the actual distance of the Earth to the Sun was known with any precision, the angles could be determined to an accuracy of about one second (60 minutes to a degree, sixty seconds to the minute), so that the parsec – the distance to an object with one second of parallax – could be determined in “astronomical units” of the distance of Earth to Sun. When the Au was determined with some accuracy the parsec could be translated into kilometers. Given the accuracy of ground based observations, distances to objects of about 100 parsecs could be determined with reasonable accuracies.
This allowed calculation of distances to stars and objects up to about 300 lightyears. Beyond that no direct measurement was possible. Unfortunately the objects observed as nebulae – island universes – are considerably farther than that. The Magellanic Clouds lie at 160,000 and 200,000 lightyears distance. Measuring distances to the Clouds and other galaxies relies on observation of certain kinds of variable stars whose blink rate correlates exactly with their absolute brightness. Unfortunately the closest of those stars, Polaris, is 433 lightyears, just a bit farther than the limit of accuracy of determination by parallax; a condition that may not last much longer.
Stars that seemed to be Cepheid Variables – ones that blink with a rate proportional to their brightness – were found in the Andromeda Nebula, at 2.5 million lightyears the nearest “island universe” to ours and by the 1920’s it became established that ours is not the only galaxy. The Andromeda Galaxy has trillions of stars in it – and it is one of billions of galaxies. Distances to those galaxies can be determined using the Cepheid Variables – but only to a certain distance.
Hubble determined those distance so far as he could. Meanwhile others had observed “red shifts” in the light coming from those galaxies. Hubble thought those red shifts correlated linearly with distance. The Standard Cosmological Theory was born. The red shifts were explained as Doppler effects – those galaxies were moving away from us – and the farther away from us they were the faster they were moving away from us. The Universe Is Expanding. This expanding universe was predicted by General Relativity. All was well.
It then became standard to determine the distance to a very far away object by measuring the red shift of the light from it – there being no other way of determining that. At millions of light years we are far beyond the limits of angular measurement and geometry. But all was well because it all fit.
Then, quietly, the observational component of this theory collapsed: it turns out that the universe is not expanding in our general region, and our local galaxies are not all receding from us at rates proportional to their distance, and the primary data on which the Hubbard theory, and thus the Expanding Universe, and thus the Big Bang theory, were based was an artifact. The Standard Theory was modified to say that the universe is expanding, but we don’t observe it at distances of a few million lightyears.
This is the thesis of the first part of Ratcliffe’s book: that there is no actually observational evidence for the correlation of red shift with distance, and within the sphere in which we can estimate distances by observations – using parallax and Cepheid Variable blink rates – the expanding universe does not hold. Indeed within the sphere where we have some means of determining distances we find not only red shift but blue shift objects. When we get to the regions where we believe the universe is in fact expanding, the only evidences we have for that is the red shifts themselves.
Radcliffe then brings up evidence against the expanding universe and points out that Halton Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies contains several examples that simply cannot be explained by the Standard Expanding Universe. And then there is the phenomenon of Quasars.
At this point I need to read the book again before I will attempt to review his arguments; but it appears that the evidence for the Expanding Universe is based largely on extrapolations from the original Hubble Slipher observations, and stayed in place after those observations were shown not to be complete or accurate, and indeed applied to a region in which Expansion is not taking place; and the evidence for expansion is based on a circular method of estimating distances.
I wish I had Sir Fred around to discuss this with. He never did believe in the Big Bang, and when he was in the proper mood he could explain many of these complexities to people like me who are very much amateurs. I find it astonishing that an entire theory of the cosmos is based on observations now known to be faulty, and I find it hard to believe. I also find it hard to believe that a great part of the universe is made up of matter we can’t see and energy we can’t detect, and more over we can’t find that stuff around here in our neighborhood. All our fundamental theories seem increasingly complex and held up by more and more complex assumptions; are we due for something new?
But it’s late, I am beyond my understanding of this book, and it’s time for bed. With luck I will feel better in the morning.
View 772 Friday, May 03, 2013
A long time ago when computers were not very reliable, and networking them was tricky at best, I developed a principle of troubleshooting: ninety percent of the time it’s a cable. This morning Roberta’s computer told her she wasn’t connected to a network. It had a box to click for fixing the problem. She hadn’t encountered that message before, and rather than respond to it told me.
I had a quick look, and it was in fact the Microsoft Windows message, and she was in fact not connected to our internal network. I looked at the Ethernet switch for her system, and the power on light was lit but nothing was blinking. I found a spare D-Link gigabit switch, but no power supply for it; I tried it with the old power supply, the power on light came on, but when I connected the cables to the printer and to the main Ethernet switch upstairs, nothing happened.
I went back to finish my coffee, then took a working gigabyte switch from the Apple Net Book Pro I used for Skype and Internet conferencing, along with its power supply, and went downstairs and connected that switch to Roberta’s system. This time I got some lights blinking but the connection wasn’t reliable, at which point I remembered Pournelle’s first principle of troubleshooting and replaced the cable from her system to the switch box. Lo!, all was well. She’s connected back to the system, and all is well.
Meanwhile upstairs I tried to get the switch I’d replaced to work with the Mac Book Pro, and it didn’t work well at all: light on but no blinking lights. Yet that certainly had been working before I changed switches. And in fact the Pro was connected to the net. Now what? But of course that’s simple. The Pro, formerly connected through the Ethernet, found itself disconnected from the net and connected through the Airport wireless; once connected it saw no need to connect through the Ethernet again.
Of course I can’t leave it alone. Now I have been trying to get the D-Link DGS 2205 Gigabit Switch, which also has a printed label “green Ethernet” on it, to work. It’s clearly new switch, probably one bought for me by Eric when we used the switch connecting Robert’s system to the network, as the entry point for TRENDnet 500 Mbps Compact Powerline AV Adapters which use the house power lines to connect to the back room where my TV set, which has TV input Cable but no Internet, resides. Getting an Ethernet line back there has been a problem for years, and the TRENDnet devices work so I can now use the Internet to find content for my TV. More on that another time.
But the “green Ethernet” D-link switch doesn’t seem to want to work, making me wonder whether it was a bad cable after all? In any event her system works, and all is well. And home networks still take troubleshooting.
My problem is, why do my older D-Link switches work just fine, but the newer “green Ethernet” switch doesn’t – any why did it suddenly stop working after weeks of doing everything well? I’ll figure it out.
I’ve now heard the Reese Witherspoon arrest tape, and it’s pretty clear that Atlanta would be far better off without that particular police officer. When I grew up, the police were the friends of the citizens. They weren’t looking for reasons to make arrests, they were supposed to keep the peace. When I was growing up our local deputy sheriff would have been more interested in preventing Witherspoon’s husband from driving drunk than in arresting a pushy blonde. This one was determined to make certain that Witherspoon and husband were subjects, not citizens.
The parts of the arrest audio being broadcast make the policemen sound more reasonable than he was; you have to listen to it all, otherwise it makes is sound as if she’s just a pushy blonde. Which she was, but that’s not illegal. The policeman was insisting that she get back in her car, as if she were some kind of danger to him, which again it is clear she was not. Of course we can think of similar situations which would have looked like a danger to the policemen. This wasn’t one of them.
This is a result of the crazy insistence on equality. If everyone has to be treated equally, then everyone has to be treated as a potential cop-killer contemptuous of the police and the society; and of course if everyone is treated that way, more and more will find that they may as well be hung for being a sheep instead of a lamb, and a few will figure out that if they act as wolves they may well not be hung at all.
I don’t know of a real solution to this problem. I do know where it ends. Social orders have been down that road before.
Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free. And having said all that, we do not know how to deal with real inequalities – of civility, of ability, of moral value – among citizens. We don’t really even have a theory.
Gelzinis: The deadly sound silence can make,
When the lawyers start whining about how unfair it is to prosecute the Boston bombers’ friends – the ones who went into the apartment and tried to throw evidence away – one should consider this piece: